NCF Nation: Dustin Harris

SEC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 23, 2012
9/23/12
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Week 4 is in the books, and we hand out our weekly helmet stickers in the SEC:

Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas: Rarely do players on losing teams get helmet stickers on the SEC blog, but there are exceptions for rare performances. Hamilton had an SEC-record performance in the Hogs’ 35-26 loss to Rutgers with 303 receiving yards. Hamilton caught 10 passes, and three of them were touchdowns. He had a 57-yarder in the first quarter and touchdown grabs of 80 and 10 yards in the fourth quarter. The old SEC record for receiving yards in a game was 293, set by LSU’s Josh Reed in 2001.

Dustin Harris, CB/RS, Texas A&M: Harris led the nation in punt return average last season and showed off his craft Saturday night by setting an SEC record with 246 punt return yards in the Aggies’ 70-14 rout of South Carolina State. He had a 96-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter, which was the second longest in school history, and wound up averaging 30.8 yards on eight returns.

Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: It was one of those nights where the defense saved LSU in its 12-10 escape at Auburn, and Montgomery was a disruptive force from the opening kick. He finished with 3.5 tackles for loss, including a sack, and was responsible for LSU’s first points when he tackled Auburn running back Tre Mason in the end zone for a safety in the first quarter. It’s a safety that helped ease the pain for LSU, which a few seconds earlier had lost a fumble at the 2.

Florida coach Will Muschamp: He made it clear when he took the job that he wanted a tough, physical, blue-collar football team. That’s exactly what the Gators are, and they’re also 4-0 with three SEC wins and playing their best football of the Muschamp era. They get a bye this coming week and then comes a huge showdown with LSU on Oct. 6. This team is playing fast, playing with discipline and playing with a purpose. The Gators haven’t given up any fourth-quarter points all season, and in blanking Kentucky 38-0 on Saturday, recorded their first SEC shutout in 11 years.

Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ junior quarterback flirted with the SEC record for consecutive completions in a game. Shaw completed his last 20 and finished 20-of-21 for 252 yards and two touchdowns in South Carolina’s 31-10 beatdown of Missouri. The record is held by former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin, who completed 23 in a row in 1998 against South Carolina. Shaw also rushed for 41 yards and showed no ill effects from the hairline fracture in his right throwing shoulder. If Shaw continues to play at this level, the Gamecocks are going to be one tough out with the way they're playing defense right now.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Starting quarterback Johnny Manziel only saw the field for a half, as Texas A&M cruised to a 70-14 win over FCS opponent South Carolina State. Taking a look at the win:

It was over when: The clock hit triple zeroes in the second quarter. Texas A&M had a commanding 49-7 lead at the half, one that it wouldn't relinquish, after producing 347 offensive yards in the first half.

Game ball goes to: Dustin Harris. The senior cornerback had his second consecutive start at cornerback but made his biggest waves on special teams, recording a school and SEC single-game record 246 punt return yards. That included a 96-yard return for a touchdown. Harris is no stranger to big plays on special teams -- he led the nation in punt return average a year ago. He consistently had good returns and set the Aggies' offense up with great field position throughout the night.

Game ball, Part 2: Johnny Manziel. The redshirt freshman quarterback had a five-touchdown day while only playing a half. Manziel was 15-of-20 passing for 174 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 78 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. His playmaking ability continues to impress through three games.

Rising star: Deshazor Everett. The sophomore got his second consecutive start at safety, had four tackles, a half-tackle for loss and a pass breakup and returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown late in the game. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder loves him at safety so expect to see Everett stay there.

What it means: The win essentially served as a tuneup for the Aggies as they prepare for the rest of their SEC slate, which begins next week against Arkansas. Texas A&M opened its season with a 20-17 home loss to SEC foe Florida but gave Aggies fans reason for optimism despite the loss considering the way they played. The next two weeks bring a home game against Arkansas before they hit the road to play Ole Miss.

SEC West post-spring notes

May, 8, 2012
5/08/12
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The good folks over at the SEC office delivered a plethora of post-spring notes for us to dive into as summer creeps closer and closer.

I've split it up by division, so you all aren't overwhelmed. We'll start with the SEC West:

ALABAMA
  • The attendance for A-Day was 78,526 (1st in the SEC and 2nd nationally this year to Ohio State) which was the fifth-largest in school history. Each spring game under coach Nick Saban has had an attendance of 78,200 (2008) or higher.
  • As an SEC head coach (beginning in 2001 at LSU and 2007 at Alabama), Saban has totaled 73 NFL draft picks with 20 first-round selections and 10 among the top 10 overall.
  • During the last academic year, Alabama’s football program led the SEC (in what is believed to be a conference record) with a total of 38 student-athletes on the Academic All-SEC Honor Roll. A total of 22 players were on the bowl roster who had already earned their degrees, which was tied for first nationally in terms of graduates on bowl rosters.
  • Of Alabama’s 13 starters lost, all were either drafted or signed free -agent contracts with the NFL. Included among those 13 were the four first-rounders along with LB Courtney Upshaw (2nd round), NG Josh Chapman (5th round), DB DeQuan Menzie (5th round) and TE Brad Smelley (7th round). OG Alfred McCullough, WR Marquis Maze, WR Darius Hanks, C William Vlachos and LB Jerrell Harris each signed as free agents following the draft.
ARKANSAS
  • Arkansas is the only team in the SEC to return a quarterback (Tyler Wilson) with a 3,000-yard passing season in his career and a running back (Knile Davis) with a 1,000-yard rushing season.
  • Arkansas has been ranked in 32 straight Associated Press polls, tied for the seventh-longest active streak in the nation, and in the top 10 for nine straight polls, which also ranks seventh among active streaks in the country.
  • Arkansas finished the 2011 season undefeated at home for the first time since 1999. With seven home victories in 2011, the Razorbacks have 19 wins at home in the past three years, which is tied for the fourth-highest total in the NCAA. Arkansas enters the 2012 season with an 11-game home winning streak, the fifth-longest active streak in the country.
  • Kicker Zach Hocker enters his junior season as Arkansas' record holder for career field goal percentage with his success rate of 80.4 percent. He also ranks in the top 10 in school history in six other categories and finished the 2011 season second in the SEC in points per game, field goals made per game and touchback percentage.
AUBURN
  • Auburn returns 48 lettermen (20 offense, 26 defense, 2 specialists). Of the 68 scholarship players who participated in spring drills, 61 percent (38) were underclassmen.
  • The Tigers start the 2012 season in the same location as they finished the 2011 campaign, playing in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. On Sept. 1, Auburn opens with Clemson in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game. The Tigers completed the 2011 season with a 43-24 victory over Virginia in the Chick-fil-a Bowl on Dec. 31. Auburn’s 2012 schedule features eight games against bowl participants from a year ago, including five that played in traditional New Year’s games.
  • Junior punter Steven Clark, one of three finalists for last year’s Ray Guy Award, is one of two returning first team All-SEC honorees for Auburn, along with junior defensive end Corey Lemonier. Returnees Philip Lutzenkirchen (senior tight end) and Onterio McCalebb (senior all-purpose back) were second team all-SEC selections in 2011.
LSU
  • The Tigers have four running backs coming back who had seven or more rushing touchdowns (Spencer Ware 8, Kenny Hilliard 8, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue 7).
  • LSU has five returning offensive linemen with starts to their credit, led by C P.J. Lonergan with 26 and OG Josh Dworczyk with 26. Other linemen with career starts to their credit include LT Chris Faulk (13), RT Alex Hurst (23) and RG Josh Williford (9). A sixth offensive lineman – La’el Collins – came out of spring practice as possibly the starter at left guard.
  • Defensively, LSU returns its top two tacklers (Tyrann Mathieu 76, Eric Reid 76) and its top two leaders in both tackles for loss (Barkevious Mingo 15.0, Sam Montgomery 13.5) and sacks (Montgomery 9.0, Mingo 8.0).
  • LSU returns 11 players on defense that started at least one game a year ago, including five defensive linemen.
MISSISSIPPI STATE
  • Mississippi State is one of only two SEC teams to bring back all 10 on-field coaches from last season. The entire staff continuity is a first in more than a decade (1999-2000) for the Bulldogs.
  • Dan Mullen enters the 2012 campaign with 21 wins in his first three seasons, the second most in school history (Alllyn McKeen, 26, 1939-41). Mississippi State had only won 21 games over any three-year stretch eight times prior to Mullen’s arrival.
  • Wide receiver Chad Bumphis enters the season with 101 career receptions, good for eighth in school history and 61 shy of David Smith’s (1968-70) record of 162. The Tupelo native needs five touchdowns to reach the school record of 17 held by Eric Moulds (1993-95) and Justin Jenkins (2000-03).
OLE MISS
  • Five returning offensive linemen have each started five or more games in their career, including junior starting center Evan Swindall. Senior A.J. Hawkins and sophomore Aaron Morris settled in at the guards during the spring, while a pair of potential first-time starters, junior Emmanuel McCray and mid-year JUCO transfer Pierce Burton, have taken the lead at the tackles.
  • Special teams remains a strength of the Rebels, led by 2010 NCAA punting champion and two-time All-SEC senior Tyler Campbell. In addition, senior K Bryson Rose has made 25 of 29 career field goals and 65-of-67 PATs.
  • In the return game, junior running back Jeff Scott has established himself as a weapon during his career, ranking 20th in the country in kickoff returns in 2010 and helping Ole Miss finish third as a team nationally in punt returns in 2011.
TEXAS A&M
  • Senior Dustin Harris enters the 2012 football season as the reigning punt return average statistical champion. The cornerback from Livingston, Texas, led the NCAA with a 18.9 average on 18 returns in 2011, with a 72-yard touchdown return against Kansas. Against the Jayhawks, Harris set a school record with 162 punt return yards.
  • Senior Ryan Swope, from Austin, Texas, has career numbers of 180 catches for 2,204 yards and is chasing Jeff Fuller’s school records of 233 catches for 3,092 yards. Fuller’s records would appear to be within range after Swope’s record-setting junior season that saw him set school standards with 89 catches for 1,207 yards.
  • The Aggies led the nation with 51 sacks in 2011 (six more than the second-best team), and A&M’s top two pass-rushing threats return in 2012. In fact, Texas A&M is the only team in the nation with two returnees that posted 8.5 or more sacks in 2011. Senior Sean Porter led the Big 12 with .73 sacks per game (No. 19 nationally), while junior Damontre Moore chipped in .71 per game (No. 21 nationally).
  • Despite attempting the ninth most pass attempts in the NCAA FBS, the Aggies did a remarkable job of protecting their quarterback in 2011. In 13 games, A&M allowed just nine sacks for a NCAA-low 44 lost yards. Four of five starters return from the 2011 offensive front, including juniors-to-be OTs Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, who have been mentioned as first-round draft picks in several early 2013 mock drafts.
  • The offensive line was penalized for holding just twice in 2011 and enters 2012 with a streak of 11 straight games without a holding call against a lineman.
We're moving on with our 2011 postseason position rankings. Today, it's time for cornerbacks. If you missed it, here's how I ranked them in the preseason.

Here are the other position rankings we've done so far:
Depth is somewhat of a factor here, but I weighted it heavily toward the top two starters at the position.

[+] EnlargeCarrington Byndom
John Albright/Icon SMICarrington Byndom went up against some of the Big 12's top receivers and held his own.
1. Texas — The Longhorns duo of Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs were by far the league's best at limiting the big play. Both are physical. Both return. Beware, Big 12 offenses. In just their first year as starters, they helped the Longhorns lead the league in pass defense. Diggs, a true freshman, led the team with four interceptions. Until the regular-season finale against Baylor, Texas and Alabama were the only teams that hadn't given up a touchdown pass longer than 20 yards. Obviously, that's way, way more impressive in the Big 12.

2. Kansas State — K-State overachieved in a lot of ways this year, and perhaps nowhere more than at cornerback. Juco transfer Nigel Malone led the league with seven interceptions. Known entity David Garrett was even more solid, making 88 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. I ranked this unit 10th in the Big 12 before the season. They finished second. I was wrong.

3. Oklahoma — The Sooners' corners were good, but not great, and underachieved slightly. Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst are supremely talented, but were susceptible to big plays this year. Granted, everybody in the Big 12 was, but the Sooners ranked fourth in pass defense. Fleming broke up 10 passes and intercepted two more. Hurst broke up 11 and had an interception.

4. Oklahoma State — At times, Oklahoma State's Brodrick Brown was a legitimate shutdown corner. Justin Gilbert turned in a solid effort in his first year as a starter, which was much more important after a season-ending injury to Devin Hedgepeth in September. Gilbert picked off five passes, second-most in the Big 12.

5. Iowa StateLeonard Johnson was quietly an NFL prospect that put together a huge year. He was a big reason for ISU's upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State, and helped shut down Justin Blackmon. He finished with 71 tackles, eight pass breakups and a pick. Jeremy Reeves added two picks and seven pass breakups.

6. MissouriE.J. Gaines led the Big 12 with 16 pass breakups, and the Tigers ranked fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense. Fellow first-year starter Kip Edwards added a pick and three pass breakups.

7. Texas A&M — The team's top corner, Coryell Judie, was hampered by a hamstring injury all season, but production is production. It wasn't there for Judie, one of the league's top corners in 2010. Terrence Frederick had a good year with 13 pass breakups and a pick, but the Aggies were susceptible through the air all year. Lionel Smith and Dustin Harris filled in well in Judie's absence, but not well enough. A&M finished eighth in pass defense and helped five QBs set career highs for passing yardage in 2011.

8. BaylorK.J. Morton played well down the stretch for Baylor, but the Bears defense left a lot to be desired almost everywhere. They finished last in the Big 12 in pass defense, giving up over 290 yards a game. Morton picked off four passes and broke up six more. All four of his picks came in the final three games of 2011. Chance Casey broke up six passes and made 48 stops.

9. Texas Tech — How's this for irony? The Red Raiders actually finished second in the Big 12 in pass defense. It doesn't matter much. Tre' Porter had the only interception for a cornerback all season, and broke up two passes. Injuries were a problem all season. Cornelius Douglas, Derrick Mays, Jarvis Phillips and Sawyer Vest filled the unit, but Tech faced 61 fewer pass attempts than Kansas and 111 fewer than the next team in the Big 12. That's what happens when you can't stop the run. Doesn't mean the corners played well.

10. KansasGreg Brown picked off two passes and broke up three more. Isiah Barfield made 35 tackles and broke up five passes. The Jayhawks ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense. They didn't get much of a pass rush to help the corners, but the corners were very poor in 2011.

The 2011 Big 12 All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
11:00
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Here's the All-Bowl team from the Big 12, recognizing the best single-game performances from this year's bowls.

QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State: Weeden threw for 399 yards and three touchdowns (it could have been four if a game-winning TD pass to Colton Chelf hadn't been overturned) on 29-of-42 passing. His first pass was intercepted, but he had an otherwise solid night and ran for his first career touchdown in the 41-38 win against Stanford.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Ganaway
AP Photo/Darren AbateBaylor's Terrance Ganaway rushed for five TDs in the Alamo Bowl.
RB: Terrance Ganaway, Baylor: The Big 12 rushing champion ran for 200 yards and five touchdowns in the Bears' 67-56 win against Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

RB: Ben Malena, Texas A&M: Malena stepped in for the injured Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael and had a solid game in the Aggies' 33-22 win against Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. He finished with 77 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, showcasing his physical running style. He also caught six passes for 36 yards.

FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma: Millard carried the ball four times for 21 yards but also helped pave the way for three Blake Bell touchdowns from the Belldozer formation.

WR: Ryan Swope, Texas A&M: Jeff Fuller had better numbers in the bowl, but it was aided by big catches late. Swope kept the Aggies offense humming for most of the game, with eight catches for 105 yards in the win against Northwestern.

WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State: Blackmon was the best offensive player in the Big 12 bowls, spearheading Oklahoma State's offense in the Fiesta Bowl win with eight catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns.

WR: Colton Chelf, Oklahoma State: Chelf made two huge catches over the middle early and a third nearly won the game, but his touchdown was overturned. Still, OSU doesn't win its first BCS bowl without Chelf's 97 yards on five catches.

TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri: By Egnew's standards, it was a quiet game, but he played well with a 25-yard grab and three catches for 39 yards in Mizzou's win.

OL: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State's offensive line is keyed by Garner, who helped the Cowboys handle Stanford's blitzes well and give Weeden plenty of time in the Fiesta Bowl win.

OL: Philip Blake, Baylor: Baylor ran for 482 yards and scored 67 points in its win against Washington in the Alamo Bowl. Blake's the man who keyed it all.

OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State: Adcock's the best overall talent on OSU's line, and he showed it in the win against Stanford.

OL: Dan Hoch, Missouri: Missouri rolled over one of the nation's best rush defenses, North Carolina, for 337 yards on the ground.

OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M: The Aggies' offense was potent for most of its win against Northwestern, and Joeckel was solid in run and pass blocking for the balanced attack.

DEFENSE

DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: Jeffcoat made five tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss in the Longhorns' 21-10 win against Cal. The Texas defense dominated, and the defensive line's play was the catalyst. He did it all with a torn pectoral muscle, too. He'll miss the spring after having it surgically repaired this week.

[+] EnlargeAdam Davis
AP Photo/Matt StrasenKansas State defensive end Adam Davis, 97, had two sacks and forced this first-half fumble by Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson in the Cotton Bowl.
DL: Adam Davis, Kansas State: Davis sacked Arkansas' Tyler Wilson twice and had three tackles for loss with a forced fumble in the loss to the Razorbacks.

DL: R.J. Washington, Oklahoma: With Ronnell Lewis ineligible, Washington showed up big in the win against Iowa. He had two sacks and made three tackles.

DL: Tony Jerod-Eddie, Texas A&M: Jerod-Eddie made eight tackles and had a sack in the win against Northwestern.

LB: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M: Moore was a monster in the season finale for the Aggies, making nine tackles and forcing a fumble on his lone sack.

LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State: Klein flew around for the Cyclones, making 15 tackles in a physical game against Rutgers, though the Cyclones lost.

LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas: Could this be a big piece of momentum heading into 2012? Hicks starred with seven tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup in the win against Cal.

CB: Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma: Fleming was the Big 12's best defensive player of the bowls and the best player on the field in the Insight Bowl, making seven tackles, intercepting a pass and returning it 21 yards. He also broke up three passes.

CB: David Garrett, Kansas State: Garrett made 10 tackles and had two tackles for loss in the loss to Arkansas.

S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas: He hates the nickname Machete, but Vaccaro was hacking away at Cal. He made three tackles, including two for loss and a sack.

S: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State: Even if it was illegal (it was), Martin had the hit of the bowl season with a huge blast on Stanford's Ty Montgomery that took Montgomery's helmet off on the opening drive. He finished with nine tackles and a tackle for loss, with a fumble recovery.

SPECIALISTS

P: Tress Way, Oklahoma: Way averaged 50 yards on his six punts, including a 67-yarder.

PK: Randy Bullock, Texas A&M: Bullock made all four of his field goal attempts, including two from beyond 40 yards.

PR: Dustin Harris, Texas A&M: Harris looked the part of the Big 12's best, returning a punt 35 yards and finishing with 54 yards on his four returns.

KR: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: Gilbert had a 50-yard return and returned his four kicks for a total of 136 yards.

ESPN.com's 2011 All-Big 12 Team

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
10:30
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Editor’s Note: Tune into the “AT&T ESPN All America Team Show” on Saturday (ABC, 1:30 p.m. ET) to see who ESPN’s writers and experts selected.

It's been a fun season across the Big 12, with a few big names who didn't play as well as we thought, and lots of unknowns who became household names by the end of the season.

I'll offer my comments below, but here's our All-Big 12 team for 2011.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jerome Miron/US PresswireThe heroics of Robert Griffin III got Baylor to 9-3 and made him a Heisman Trophy finalist.
QB: Robert Griffin III, Baylor
All-purpose: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
RB: Terrance Ganaway, Baylor
RB: Henry Josey, Missouri
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
WR: Kendall Wright, Baylor
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
C: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DE: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
DT: Dominique Hamilton, Missouri
DE: Alex Okafor, Texas
DE: Jamie Blatnick, Oklahoma State
LB: Sean Porter, Texas A&M
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Emmanuel Acho, Texas
NB: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
CB: Nigel Malone, Kansas State
CB: Carrington Byndom, Texas
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
S: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State

SPECIALISTS

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
PK: Randy Bullock, Texas A&M
PR: Dustin Harris, Texas A&M
KR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

Finally, a few notes and explanations:

  • I loved the media's idea to craft an all-purpose spot to accomodate Collin Klein. The Big Ten did the same for Michigan's Denard Robinson last season. I followed suit, and did so on the defensive side of the ball with a nickel-back spot for Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson. Two players that missed first-team designation by the coaches, but clearly deserve to be recognized.
  • Additionally, I prefer the teams to reflect the Big 12 style of play, so the nickel back fits. Each team doesn't have 11 players, but there were deserving linebackers. The same with Egnew and Millard. Does every team use a fullback or a tight end? No, but both are standout performers. They'd rotate in anyway, just as Jefferson would in a theoretical package.
  • Tough call to leave Philip Blake from Baylor off my team, but Garner's been better. Blake is very, very close, though.
  • Hated to leave off Brodrick Brown and E.J. Gaines, but I went with a more traditional two corners and two safeties, rather than four corners like the media's team.
  • Steven Johnson and Arthur Brown would have been right behind my three linebackers. That race was probably closer than at any other position, except maybe cornerback. Difficult to leave either of those guys off my first team, but the three on the team were better. I gave Brown my Newcomer of the Year nod, though.
  • I don't like going with three defensive ends and one defensive tackle, but there wasn't a defensive tackle who deserved the honor more than Okafor, my third defensive end. Okafor was a defensive tackle last year anyway, so that's close enough, right? He moved from tackle to end before spring practice earlier this year. In the Big 12, an additional pass rusher is necessary, too, right?
  • I made a similar move with my offensive line. Went tackle-heavy, but the guards didn't have quite as many standouts.

Halftime analysis: Texas A&M 16, Texas 7

November, 24, 2011
11/24/11
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas games look quite a bit different than the rest in the Big 12. That's not necessarily a good thing. The Longhorns have a solid defense, but a limping and inexperienced offense. The result: A brand of football not often seen in the Big 12.

Quite the half. The Aggies lead 16-7. Time for a bit of analysis.

Turning point: Dustin Harris let a punt hit him and the Longhorns recovered. A trick play later, the Longhorns cut the Aggies' lead to 13-7 when Jaxon Shipley hit Blaine Irby for a 41-yard touchdown pass. Before that, Texas' offense hardly had a pulse. Funny how one play can produce so much confidence. The Longhorns looked much better moving forward from that point, which came at the 9:19 mark in the second quarter.

Stat of the half: The two teams combined to convert 2 of 17 first downs. Ouch.

Best player in the half: Randy Bullock, K, Texas A&M. Bullock's been money for the Aggies, banging home kicks of 49, 52 and 29 yards to become the school's single-season record-holder for made field goals with 24. He's also got 124 points, four short of the single-season school record set back in 1927.

Best call: Bryan Harsin's double pass. It was pretty obvious that nothing the Longhorns did was working. They needed a bit of misdirection or something that could rip off a chunk of yardage. It came at the perfect time, caught the Aggies off-guard and pushed Texas back into contention in a game that, early on, looked like it had no business being in.

What Texas needs to do: Keep mixing in some misdirection plays and tricky stuff as needed. The Longhorns don't look capable of moving the ball using their traditional offense. Case McCoy hasn't been able to stretch the field. Receivers haven't been getting open often. The holes haven't been there for Malcolm Brown. The Longhorns need big plays from the defense, special teams or offense. Without them, adding a couple more touchdowns in the second half to come back and win this is going to be extremely difficult.

What Texas A&M needs to do: Look at the scoreboard. Texas has seven points. It came off the Aggies' biggest mistake. Quit making big mistakes. Take what the Longhorns' defense gives them. Prevent the big play. Make Texas string together completions to move the ball. There's not much evidence to suggest the Longhorns can do it. Check all those things off the list and Texas A&M gets the last shot at Texas on the way to the SEC.

RB Cyrus Gray's day ends with an injury

November, 19, 2011
11/19/11
2:44
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Could be a costly win for Texas A&M, even if it's easy.

The Aggies lead, 61-0, late in the third quarter, but Cyrus Gray emerged from the locker room after halftime without pads and wearing only a warmup suit.

He's out with an undisclosed injury, and will be re-evaluated after the game, according to a sideline report. Texas A&M officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Dustin Harris continued his big day returning punts with a 72-yard return to put the Aggies up 61, but the Gray injury would be huge if it's serious.

Texas A&M is already playing without Christine Michael, who was the team's leading rusher when he tore his ACL against Oklahoma.

Ben Malena is the Aggies' third back, but the league's best 1-2 punch at running back is down for now.

With Texas waiting next week in what may be the final Lone Star Showdown for a long time, there will be some nervous moments ahead for the Aggies.

Malena has 32 yards and a touchdown on eight carries today.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill's took a seat in the third quarter because of the big lead, and Jameill Showers has gotten the nod in mop-up duty.

Kansas' league win hopes shaky

November, 19, 2011
11/19/11
12:44
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Kansas has knocked on the door of its first conference win the past two weeks, losing to Baylor and Iowa State by a combined four points.

On Saturday, the Jayhawks haven't been nearly as threatening at Texas A&M. The Aggies lead 9-0 in the first quarter, after a punt snap went awry and the Jayhawks took a safety.

For those counting, that's three times as many points in a third of the time as Baylor scored last week. The Bears trailed, 24-3, entering the fourth quarter before a furious comeback forced overtime.

It's pretty simple: Kansas can't make those kinds of mistakes and hope to win this game. Texas A&M has a lot more talent and a lot more experience. So far, it's shown. A nice punt return from Dustin Harris set up a three-play, 42-yard touchdown drive that opened the game, highlighted by a 30-yard run from Cyrus Gray.

Kansas has already put itself in a hole, and the Jayhawks haven't been a team that's shown an ability to climb out of one.


COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was wrapped up, all but down on fourth down deep in Texas A&M's red zone.

Somehow, he found a way to lob the ball to tight end Jordan Najvar. The ball fluttered over the hands of two Aggies defenders and Najvar, setting off a celebration on the way back to the sidelines and firing up the 87,361 comprising the fourth-largest crowd ever at Kyle Field.

Baylor didn't score again, and Texas A&M rolled to a 55-28 win over the Bears.

"Unstoppable. That’s really what we thought," defensive end Spencer Nealy said.

Nealy led the team with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

"After the fourth down stop, honestly, you look at every guy running off the field, jumping up and down. We really uplifted our confidence," he said.

Sometimes all it takes is one play to change the course of a game and perhaps a season. The Aggies led by 13, and if the Aggies hadn't made the stop, the odds of a third second-half nightmare in four weeks becoming a reality would have quickly risen.

"We knew it was big," said linebacker Jonathan Stewart, who had one of five sacks for Texas A&M. "We just knew we needed to grit our teeth and just get the stop."

The mistakes were there. Griffin torched this wrecked crew for a school-record 430 yards, the third quarterback in four weeks to write his name in the school record book at the Aggies' expense.

A few costly offside penalties in the first half extended Baylor drives.

"I’m sure we’ll probably get yelled at for that during Monday morning film, but we had to get pressure on him," Nealy said.

Twice the defense got beat over the top for touchdown passes of 77 yards and 43 yards, and Griffin set up another touchdown with a 50-yard bomb to Tevin Reese, who drew pass interference on the play, too.

After the game, Sherman stopped Griffin.

"If you're III, I don't want to meet I and II," he told him.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Jon EiltsTexas A&M's defense contained Robert Griffin III and the Baylor offense when it counted in the fourth quarter.
But for Texas A&M, it can focus on the day's biggest number: Baylor's gaping zero on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.

"We're not going to shut this team out," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said of the Bears, who entered Saturday's game third nationally in total offense with the most efficient passing game in college football. "They will move the ball against anyone and everyone."

Except, apparently, Texas A&M in the fourth quarter.

"In the end, it came down to that fourth-down stop," Nealy said.

The stop allayed at least a few fears that this experienced team loaded with as much talent as any in the Big 12 can't perform in the second half.

This was a game complete with the end of a 22-quarter drought without a turnover. The Aggies did it with pressure on a previously unflappable quarterback in Griffin. He'd thrown just one interception with 19 touchdowns in 143 attempts entering Saturday's game, but the Aggies pressured him and he threw it up for grabs. Dustin Harris took advantage.

"We're taught to get takeaways. That's the first thing on our list," Harris said. "It was on our backs to get that pick or a turnover on defense and it happened on that play. Our offense went down and converted."

The last part was nothing new for the Aggies, who didn't punt in the second half. With the kind of firepower Texas A&M fields on offense, the defense's margin of error is only slightly wider than the separation Ryan Swope got on opposing defenders throughout Saturday's game.

Swope finished with a career-high 206 yards on 11 receptions and four of Ryan Tannehill's six touchdown passes.

"Our offensive line really set the tone of the game," Swope said. "People were just making plays. Coach strives on winning 1-on-1 matchups, and I feel like we did that."

Said Tannehill: "It was fun watching him play today."

The first-team offense scored on every possession in the second half, scoring 52 points in the game's final 39 minutes. The second-half failures that had become the team's defining trait through the first half of the season had, for at least an afternoon, disappeared.

Sometimes, all it takes is one play.

Aggies offense carrying the load

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One fourth-down stop was all it took.

Texas A&M's offense has scored points on all four of its possessions this half and opened up a 48-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

The defense let Baylor get to the 4-yard line before making a stop to get the ball back.

It took just seven plays to go 96 yards and add another touchdown.

For Texas A&M's defense, it's pretty obvious that it doesn't need much to win games like this against teams without elite defenses.

The offense has been outstanding throughout, and one defensive stop in the entire half meant a 20-point lead. The defense also ended its 22-quarter streak without a turnover when Dustin Harris intercepted a Robert Griffin III jump ball.

This is what Texas A&M can be.

The defense doesn't have to be great for the Aggies to rescue this season. It just has to be better.

In the second half, it has been.

Aggieland is buzzing early

October, 15, 2011
10/15/11
10:14
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It looks like everybody in Aggieland remembered to set their alarm clocks for an early wake-up call.

The tailgates were getting fired up a full 150 minutes before kickoff this morning and it's a gorgeous morning as the Corps of Cadets marched through a few of them.

A crisp morning will progress into a warm afternoon for the noon ET kickoff. The sun's out and there's not a cloud in sight from the press box at Kyle Field.

The season hasn't gone as A&M (3-2) would have liked, but they've got a chance for a satisfying victory today. A&M is headed to the SEC next year, and every fan in maroon and white today would love a win over the school that tried the hardest to stop it.

The good news for the Aggies: Receiver Jeff Fuller has been officially cleared to play after suffering a concussion in last week's 45-40 win over Texas Tech.

Fuller practiced Tuesday and Wednesday without contact, but was cleared for contact on Thursday and is good to go today. One player who isn't: Receiver/punt returner Kenric McNeal.

He has a sprained foot, and is a game-time decision. He'll come out to the field today and work out before coaches decide if he's ready to go. If not, cornerback Dustin Harris is expected to replace him as punt returner.

Big plays galore in the first quarter

October, 1, 2011
10/01/11
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- It didn't take long before Texas A&M and Arkansas started putting on a show.

The Aggies had plays of 48 and 44 yards before Arkansas got back into the game with a 68-yard touchdown.

After the first quarter, the Aggies led 14-7.

Last week, the Aggies struggled early with Oklahoma State's offensive pace. This week, Texas A&M is doing it to the Hogs. Texas A&M's pace is giving Arkansas problems, but the real problem is Texas A&M's recommitment to the running game.

A week after becoming the forgotten man in Texas A&M's running game, Christine Michael has re-emerged with a pair of touchdowns, including his 48-yard score on an awkward exchange with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a hurdle over a few linemen into the open field.

Michael appeared to grab the ball out of Tannehill's hand as he cocked to throw. When he does that and scores from midfield, though, everybody's happy, even if it's not pretty.

Texas A&M's defense has been solid, but the 68-yard touchdown to Jarius Wright late in the quarter was a rare bust for the unit, which has been consistently pressuring Tyler Wilson and putting him on his back.

Dustin Harris gave the Aggies their only sack with a big hit on Wilson, who didn't see the unblocked corner.

With these two offenses, expect more big plays before it's over.
We'll move on to the cornerbacks today in our position rankings across the Big 12.

Here's what we've covered so far:
This group? Well, it's not very good. And considering the crazy depth in the Big 12 at receiver, it could be a long season for cornerbacks in this league. I love the upside of many of the Big 12 corners -- namely the guys at Missouri and Texas Tech (especially working with Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 in Lubbock). Texas could also develop fast in its new defense, but outside of Texas A&M and Oklahoma, I don't see any Big 12 teams that should be completely comfortable with their cornerbacks.

Of course, for fans who love points, this could be a welcome development. For secondary coaches and defensive coordinators? Not so much.

[+] EnlargeJamell Fleming
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJamell Fleming returns as the Big 12's top cornerback.
1. Oklahoma -- Jamell Fleming is the Big 12's top returner at the position and gives the Sooners a huge boost after being reinstated last week. Fleming had withdrawn from the university because of academic problems following the season. Aaron Colvin moved to safety during the offseason, but Fleming will still have to beat out Gabe Lynn in fall camp to start opposite Demontre Hurst. Julian Wilson also adds depth.

2. Texas A&M -- Fleming's return pushed the Sooners over A&M as having the Big 12's best group of corners. But Coryell Judie and Terrence Frederick could both challenge for first team All-Big 12 honors at the position. They are ahead of reserves Dustin Harris and Lionel Smith, who will get plenty of time on the field.

3. Missouri -- Missouri loses starters Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, but the coaches consider Kip Edwards a returning starter because of how much he played last season. Edwards could join E.J. Gaines in eventually becoming better than both Gettis and Rutland. Trey Hobson and Robert Steeples will get time in the rotation, too.

4. Oklahoma State -- OSU has to replace the Big 12's interception leader Andrew McGee , but Brodrick Brown's development should continue. He's likely a dark horse to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors after the season. The Cowboys didn't release a post-spring depth chart, but don't be surprised if return specialist Justin Gilbert edges out Devin Hedgepeth for the starting spot before the opener. Andrae May has earned playing time on special teams in both of his first two seasons on campus, but could be counted on for a much bigger role this year as the fourth corner.

5. Texas -- The Longhorns are fairly decimated at corner after losing three to the NFL in one offseason. Curtis and Chykie Brown joined Aaron Williams for one of the most talented sets of corners we've seen in this league, but now, secondary coach Duane Akina will have to replace them. Texas' depth chart is still as in flux as any in college football, but I'd be surprised if Carrington Byndom didn't emerge with a starting spot. True freshman Quandre Diggs might swipe the other, but Eryon Barnett and A.J. White will be on the field, too.

6. Texas Tech -- The Red Raiders are likely to ascend this list by season's end, but for now, find themselves at No. 6. Injuries were costly for the defense last season, but Tre Porter and Derrick Mays should be much better, and Tech fans can be encouraged by the upside in Jarvis Phillips, Jeremy Reynolds and Eugene Neboh.

7. Iowa State -- This group might be a bit underrated, but with Iowa State's defensive problems last season, it's a bit hard to tell. Jeremy Reeves and Leonard Johnson return with loads of experience, and Anthony Young is a great additional piece as the third corner. Matthew Thomas should be in the rotation, too.

8. Baylor -- The Bears return both starters. Chance Casey has 15 career starts to Tyler Stephenson's four, but the Bears secondary struggled last season, especially the corners. Tuswani Copeland should be on the field, and Romie Blaylock offers some experience as a senior under new coordinator Phil Bennett, whose work is cut out for him at this spot.

9. Kansas -- Kansas loses Chris Harris from last season's team, but Isiah Barfield is a playmaker at the position. Greg Brown, Tyler Patmon and Anthony Davis fill out the group.

10. Kansas State -- The Wildcats have a huge talent in David Garrett, who led the team in tackles last season and was the nation's leader in tackles for loss, but he's still just one player at a position that needs lots of depth in this league. Also, his coverage leaves a bit to be desired. For now, K-State doesn't look like it has that necessary depth. Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison are gone, but the Wildcats need to find more talents at the position in fall camp. Watch for Thomas Ferguson to emerge as the other starter.
Our friends in the Big East kicked off this idea, and it'll suit the Big 12 well. The All-Big 12 preseason teams are still a long way away, but which units in the Big 12 are the best entering 2011?

Here are my votes, and I feel pretty good about all of them. Which would you pick?

Quarterbacks: Oklahoma State

The Cowboys return All-Big 12 first-teamer Brandon Weeden, and the senior will have his top target back, Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon. He threw for 4,277 yards last season and his quarterback rating of 154.11 was eight points higher than any passer in the Big 12.

Honorable mention: Oklahoma, Baylor

Running backs: Texas A&M

Cyrus Gray was the Big 12's best back late in the conference season, and his running mate re-joins him in the backfield this year after breaking his leg midway through 2010. Christine Michael and Gray form perhaps the best backfield duo in the nation, but by far the best in the Big 12.

Honorable mention: Oklahoma

Receivers: Oklahoma

This one's close, but Oklahoma's depth gives them the edge. Ryan Broyles is narrowly the Big 12's No. 2 receiver and a Biletnikoff finalist in his own right, but Kenny Stills could sneak up on a 1,000-yard season as a sophomore in 2011. Dejuan Miller and Trey Franks are two more solid options, and the Sooners could add a pair of talented freshmen to the rotation in Trey Metoyer and Justin McCay.

Honorable mention: Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Baylor

Offensive line: Oklahoma State

The line helped running back Kendall Hunter finish second in the Big 12 with 1,548 yards last season, and all five starters return from the unit that gave up the fewest sacks in the Big 12. That's aided by the quick-release approach in the Air Raid offense, but the line boasts the Big 12's best returning lineman, tackle Levy Adcock.

Honorable mention: Texas A&M

Defensive line: Missouri

The Tigers have the Big 12's returning leader in sacks, defensive end Brad Madison, but the unit is deep and talented and could get even more so next season. DT Terrell Resonno, DE Jacquies Smith and DT Dominique Hamilton are all experienced, and defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy should provide very little dropoff when they're on the field as part of the rotation. The Tigers also welcome a possible game-changer in Sheldon Richardson, a light-footed 6-foot-4, 296-pound defensive tackle and St. Louis native who is the nation's No. 3 juco recruit.

Honorable mention: Texas

Linebackers: Oklahoma

The Sooners have one of the favorites for Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in senior linebacker Travis Lewis, who is likely to be joined by some combination of Tom Wort, Corey Nelson and Jaydan Bird. Nickel back Tony Jefferson could be poised for a break out year on a national scale after sharing Defensive Freshman of the Year honors last season.

Honorable mention: Iowa State

Cornerbacks: Texas A&M

The Aggies have two of the Big 12's best in Dustin Harris and Coryell Judie, who doubles as perhaps the Big 12's most dangerous return man. The pair combined for eight interceptions last season and 21 passes defended. Terrence Frederick defended 10 passes of his own. Health was a concern for this group in the spring, but they should be ready come fall.

Honorable mention: Oklahoma

Safeties: Oklahoma State

Markelle Martin is a future draft pick and one of the Big 12's hardest hitters, but Johnny Thomas played some of his best football late last season. They combined for 118 tackles last season, and 100 of those were solo stops.

Honorable mention: Kansas State

Punter: Oklahoma State

Quinn Sharp has been one of the Big 12's best punters for the past two seasons, and led the league in punting average at 46.2 yards in 2010.

Kicker: Missouri

Grant Ressel has made 43 of 46 field goals over the past two seasons, and the former walk-on should be a contender for the Lou Groza Award as a junior in 2011.

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